Tapping into readers’ curiosity to build trust (and better stories)
With a simple question, The Shorthorn flipped the traditional story generation process on its head: “What do you want to know about UTA?”
This spring, the student newspaper at the University of Texas at Arlington launched UTA Unfolded, an engagement-driven reporting initiative. Readers submit questions, reporters investigate, and the resulting stories are published and shared with the public.
Narda Pérez, a UTA senior and The Shorthorn’s social media editor, discussed the project and its growth in the first month. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did the idea for the project come about?
I saw the Dallas Morning News’ Curious Texas project, which is the same idea. I thought that was a cool way to interact with their readers, and why not do that locally? Arlington is our area of coverage because the city doesn’t have a daily news publication outside The Shorthorn. A lot of its citizens really do look at The Shorthorn as the city’s newspaper.
There are lots of Facebook communities within the city, and part of my job is to see what everyone’s talking about online and what’s missing from our coverage. There’s lots of talk about the city that does involve UTA even if the issue didn’t originate from the university.
So far we’ve gotten a lot of good, deep questions. It’s really refreshing to see our readers care enough to come to us with these questions about campus and the city, and they want to talk to our staff members about our reporting process. We want to educate the public and make them feel like they can walk into our newsroom, join a meeting and ask us questions.
How did you prepare to launch?
The social media assistant and I met with our editor-in-chief and digital managing editor and told them the idea. They were on board and said we should just do it. We made a checklist with our goals: to provide information the readers are asking us in real time. We designed a logo and wrote up an explanation of what the project is. We also spent lots of time talking to our staff, convincing them it’s going to be fun.
We promoted it in our daily email newsletter that goes to 70,000 people by sharing the explainer of the project, plus the Google form for people to send in questions. I had a good feeling and knew it would help make an impact on campus.